Germany, Frankfurt to Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. They come by hundreds and thousands. Airlifts successful, the troops touchdown at the Frankfurt airfield and travel by rail through the Frankish countryside heading East. Frankfurt airfield to Frankfurt to Wurzburg to Steinach eventually on to Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. Disembarking from the train, all you hear is rolling thunder. The foreigners have taken the city and life will never be the same again.
No, it is not 1945 and we are not referring to Undersecretary of State McCloy’s attempt to prevent the medieval city from destruction via artillery. It’s 2009 and this rolling thunder refers to hordes of tourists (American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, and German) dragging their wheeled luggage boisterously across cobblestone streets. These modern day foregin invaders are here this time to take photos of the walled city, not to raize it. One wonders if this is not the more insidious kind of destruction.
Welcome to tourist Germany.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Rothenberg on the river Tauber (or ROT), is a well preserved medieval village and that is what saved it hundreds of years ago and that is what makes it popular today. ROT hit its stride as one of the 10 largest cities in Europe a milenia ago. Sitting on a hill protected on three sides by steep river embankments, an Imperial decree from the Holy Roman Empire, and stout outer defensive wall encircling the city, ROT was well protected. Blessed by 400 square kilometers of land situated at the nexus of two important trade routes (Rhine to Bohemia and North Sea to Rome), fertile soil, and 180 small towns to tax, Rothenbergers had it good and it shows today.
Though the city was only ever captured once and that was after a 3 day battle towards the end of the 30 years war, that final surrender left it torn asunder. Pillaging was the order of the day and after the 1600’s, the town never, ever recovered. Protected by poverty, the city was forgotten. Rothenbergers barely had enough resources to subside with let alone modernize buildings so the cute antique walls, homes, and squares kept preserved until the late 1800s when tourists re-discovered the town in a time capsule. Since then, tourism has been a source of fortune, and perhaps misfortune.
While it was Rothenberg’s status as a mediveal city that kept the Allies from finishing with artillery what air bombing started, tourism has been the town’s lifeblood for over a century. The city is awash in tourist dollars leaving a visitor feeling processed in a commercial sort of way. That’s not to say that the people are not friendly – they are, nor that the buildings are fake – they are not. The fact remains that an authentic German medieval experience this is not. Think more Epcot center than Disney, but with much higher-end shops.
Perhaps the best lessons one can draw from ROT is how absolutely difficult life has been on this planet for most of human existance. For the vast majority of time people have been concerned with having enough food and water to survive a winter or a seige. The largest concern has been death by privation, fire, war, or pestilence. If by some manor of success people can now afford to travel and view the world as it once was, so much the better. Moeny is far better spent purchasing coo coo clocks, steins, and currywurst than making cannons.